The real train wreck

The most recent month-long furlough would have been bad enough without the probability,
at this writing, of yet another shutdown after Jan. 26. As more than one observer pointed
out, once a new low is reached, as it has in the 1996 budget negotiations, there's the
danger of its becoming routine. Just as presidential appointees are regularly
""Borked,'' shutdowns of indeterminate length threaten to become a routine part
of budgeting, at least when the government is divided.

True, the world didn't come to an end--although the near-record blizzard that
punctuated and extended the shutdown in Washington lent a biblical touch to the whole
affair. But real damage was done during the furlough. Some of it may be intangible, but
it's real nonetheless. Here are some of the fallouts I see:

The issues being debated--federal entitlements, how to end the deficit--are worthy of
national debate and decision by elected officials. That's true of big measures, such as
eliminating the deficit, or narrowly focused ones, like repealing the Brooks Act. But it's
hard to think of a more effective way to wreck the quality of government than to drive it
repeatedly off a cliff.

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